John Lackey made his bones as a rookie with the 2002 Anaheim Angels, beating Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants in Game 7 of the World Series. Now 37 — and armed with another championship ring from his turbulent time with the Boston Red Sox — Lackey is looking for more jewelry.
Like he said before, Lackey “didn’t come here for a haircut” — or to make friends or position himself for a talking-head gig on a future Cubs network. It’s World Series or bust, and Lackey looked ready for October during Tuesday night’s 5-1 victory over the Angels in front of 41,227 at Wrigley Field.
“He’s always been that guy,” said manager Joe Maddon, Mike Scioscia’s bench coach on that 2002 Angels team. “He’s not going to be out there smiling all the time. He’s going to be upset with umpires. He’s going to be upset with his manager. He’s going to be upset with teammates on occasion. But that’s just who he is. And when you know that, it’s OK.”
Across eight innings, Lackey found a good rhythm with rookie catcher Willson Contreras, and that might be the biggest takeaway for a Cubs team now on an eight-game winning streak and still holding baseball’s best record (70-41).
Lackey (9-7, 3.56 ERA) shut down a Los Angeles lineup that doesn’t have much beyond Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in the middle. Lackey retired 12 in a row after allowing Kole Calhoun’s home run in the first inning, finishing with six strikeouts looking against only one walk. The Angels (49-63) managed only two singles against Lackey the rest of the night, with their right-handed hitters going 0-for-18. Lackey credited Contreras — who also homered off Jered Weaver — for calling a good game.
“We’re starting to get some better results, not as much shaking,” Lackey said. “He got thrown into a tough spot, for sure, with some veteran guys in a playoff race. And I think he’s handled it well, absolutely.
“It’s just a matter of time until he figures out that side of the game. And he’s getting way better at it right now.
“The talent is all there. That’s the last step. Sometimes that takes a while. But he’s come along really fast right now, and it’s been good for us.”
Lackey’s sharpness stood out against his buddy Weaver (8-9, 5.19 ERA), the soft-tossing, past-his-prime right-hander who couldn’t contain this offense, allowing five runs in five innings, including a ball Kris Bryant drove onto Waveland Avenue for his 28th homer.
“You love having him on your team,” Maddon said. “Because some people (say): ‘He’s really a competitor.’ No, that guy (Lackey) is. He loves baseball — and he loves to pitch — and he knows what’s going on out there. That’s just John. I’ve known him for a bit. That really has not changed, from the moment I saw him in 2002.”